How Computation Is Helping Unravel the Dynamics of Morphogenesis

David Pastor-Escuredo and Juan C. del Álamo

Front. Phys.


The growing availability of imaging data, calculation power, and algorithm sophistication are transforming the study of morphogenesis into a computation-driven discipline. In parallel, it is accepted that mechanics plays a role in many of the processes determining the cell fate map, providing further opportunities for modeling and simulation. We provide a perspective of this integrative field, discussing recent advances and outstanding challenges to understand the determination of the fate map. At the basis, high-resolution microscopy and image processing provide digital representations of embryos that facilitate quantifying their mechanics with computational methods. Moreover, innovations in in-vivo sensing and tissue manipulation can now characterize cell-scale processes to feed larger-scale representations. A variety of mechanical formalisms have been proposed to model cellular biophysics and its links with biochemical and genetic factors. However, there are still limitations derived from the dynamic nature of embryonic tissue and its spatio-temporal heterogeneity. Also, the increasing complexity and variety of implementations make it difficult to harmonize and cross-validate models. The solution to these challenges will likely require integrating novel in vivo measurements of embryonic biomechanics into the models. Machine Learning has great potential to classify spatio-temporally connected groups of cells with similar dynamics. Emerging Deep Learning architectures facilitate the discovery of causal links and are becoming transparent and interpretable. We anticipate these new tools will lead to multi-scale models with the necessary accuracy and flexibility to formulate hypotheses for in-vivo and in-silico testing. These methods have promising applications for tissue engineering, identification of therapeutic targets, and synthetic life.